Whistler’s Ashley McMillan has long been known as one of the resort’s top distance runners, but now he’s looking to add swimming and cycling to his résumé as well.
McMillan has spent much of the past year adapting his training focus to prepare for his first Ironman triathlon, as he’ll be on the start line for the 31st edition of Ironman Canada when it comes to Whistler for the first time on Aug. 25.
“I kind of got egged on: ‘Surely you’re doing that; surely that’s the kind of thing you’d be doing,’” McMillan said of the reaction from friends when it was announced Whistler was the event’s new host. “The Penticton one was never really on my calendar, but now it’s in my backyard, so it was a no-brainer.
“I’d already signed up for the six-day TransRockies stage race in Colorado that happened to be the week before, and my question was, ‘Can I do both? Is it humanly possible to do both?’ I had to cancel the TransRockies one — a bit of common sense there.”
While pounding the pavement is something McMillan has found success with over the years — a Top-20 finish in this year’s BMO Vancouver Marathon one of the more recent examples — working the other two disciplines into his regimen has been a bit of an adjustment for the 39-year-old.
“The amount of running miles have been cut down drastically, which is very unusual for me and that’s something that I’ve had to get used to, to be quite honest,” said the U.K. native. “But having said that, because I’m not beating myself up day in and day out, it’s a little easier going in some respects — hence the marathon I did earlier this year … I’m actually feeling a lot stronger from the (triathlon) training.”
McMillan was a competitive swimmer growing up and said he’s thankful to have that experience in his back pocket. But if there’s one area he expects to pose the biggest challenge on race day, it’s on the bike. Though he’s spent some time mountain biking in the past, he described road cycling as “a whole different animal.”
“My biggest challenge is that I’m 155 pounds, soaking wet,” he said. “The big guys always seem to get the better of me on the flats when they can power ahead, but thankfully most of them can’t climb.”
McMillan does have a little bit of past experience with triathlon and has entered a few this summer, including a half-Iron distance race, in the lead-up to Aug. 25. That’s helped him get a feel for transitions again and helped him gain a sense of his race plan.
“I’m confident … that I can get back in and start attacking some of the field again on the run so long as I don’t ruin myself on the bike,” he said.
McMillan said he’s anticipating the Whistler course to be difficult and the race times to be slower compared to most Ironman events, so he’s been adjusting his finish time goal accordingly.
“It’ll be what it’ll be, but I think ultimately if I can have a good swim, a decent bike and come in strong with a good, solid run — I’ve run a sub-2:40 marathon, so if I can run anything remotely close to a 3:15 after all that, I’ll probably be ecstatic,” he said. “I’m thinking around the 10-hour-ish mark, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Once the first edition of Ironman Canada staged in Whistler wraps up, McMillan won’t have completely made the switch to being a full-time triathlete, but expects he’ll dabble in some more triathlon races down the road.
“I certainly think the running is always going to be there,” he said. “I definitely will keep up some tri work in the future. I wouldn’t mind going out and maybe do a half next year. I’d like to get a little more competitive on the bike, give it a crack and see what I’ve really got. But it’s never going to go away, the running.”